Reading what Block (2011) and Schein 1999) have to share on consulting has given me a new appreciation for “experience”. Schein offers his “principles” and Block has his “steps” and “elements” but as I continue through the reading, it is clear that “flawless consulting” is more than merely applying “principles”, “steps” and/or “elements”. The authors offer no “formulas” for guaranteed success. What they do offer are insights based upon their experiences. Both authors possess knowledge of their subject matter. However, knowledge is only the beginning of building expertise. Block and Schein add to the value of what they offer, having crafted their consulting expertise through years of applying “principles”, “steps” and “elements” to their experience in consulting.
In particular, I have appreciated the authors’ examples of “how” one might apply their information. For example, in Process Consultation Revisited: Building the Helping Relationship, Schein elaborates on the application of his “Principle 9: Everything Is Data: Errors Will Always Occur and Are the Prime Source for Learning” with a great illustration on how to use the “why” question.
“The “why” question is a powerful intervention because it often forces the client to focus on something that they had taken entirely for granted and to examine it from a new perspective. By choosing the subject matter of the “why” carefully, the consultant can create a different mental process leading to quite different insights. A major choice is whether to focus the client on why he did what he did, why someone else in the story did what they did, or why some event happened that did not involve the client or some specific other person in the story.” (p. 51)
Similarly, in his book Flawless Consulting: A Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used, Block illustrates just how the consultant might “Give Support” (Step 7) to a client in the process of navigating the contract.
“Starting a project like this takes some risk on your part, and I appreciate your willingness to take that risk with me.” (p. 86)
“You are very perceptive about the nature of these kinds of problems. This is going to help a lot on this project.” (p.86)
The importance of experience was brought home to me recently as I prepared a meal for my father. I was using a new recipe which I needed to cut in half as I cooking just for the two of us. As I added each ingredient, I was careful to reconfigure the measurement for each. When it came time to combine all the ingredients together, I realized that the consistency was not correct. Somehow cutting the proportions had not resulted in the right consistency so I quickly made a minor adjustment, adding more of one of the ingredients and that did the trick. How did I know the consistency was not correct? It certainly was not because I am a gourmet cook. Rather, the experience of making a similar dish helped me recognize that the consistency was not what it should be and to know what I needed to do to fix it. My experience helped me avoid a dinner disaster.
As I approach the upcoming consulting project, I have some reservation and apprehension regarding my lack of experience in professional consulting. I greatly value the experience which both Block and Schein have gained through their consulting practices. Much like a child can learn by the guidance offered through the wisdom of their parents, I can benefit from the experience of others who have gleaned many valuable lessons from their practice in this area. This gives me encouragement as I begin my own practice of applying this new knowledge in order to gain greater experience in the helping process.